"Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it's always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” -- Neil Gaiman
Neil wasn't lying -- there's nothing quite like the tyranny of the blank page. And while there are very good systems and strategies you can use to make sure that you're never unsure of what to post, sometimes you need something to spark your brain.
Enter the two deceptively simple questions:
"What do you need to say?"
"What do they need to hear?"
Womp womp, fluff piece, X it out, move on. I know. But before you move on to the next post on your procrastination list, hear me out.
This is actually eight questions in two very full packages. The differences are subtle, but they make all the difference between the different versions of the questions -- and thinking about questions from all these different angles lets you spark bits of your brain that you otherwise wouldn't. It's all about breaking you out of your familiar modes of thinking so that you can really get to the good stuff.
So ask yourself...
1. WHAT do you need to say?
What topics, subjects, or ideas do you need to talk about? You might be lucky enough to have something pop into your mind just at that, but if you're not, then think about the things that people tend to ask you about, your pet peeves, responses to things in your industry, or misconceptions that your people might have about the work you do. Remember, blogging is not rocket science -- as long as it's genuinely useful in some way, it's fair game.
2. What do YOU need to say?
The amount of agency that the development of the Internet and blogging and the online small biz world (despite its failings) gives you when it comes to voice never fails to blow my mind. Having the chance to stand up and talk about whatever you want to talk about is a huge privilege -- so honor it by actually standing up and talking. What information, technique, or message do you have that no one else has? What do you, specifically, have to share with the world?
3. What do you NEED to say?
What's burning in the top of your mind, dying to get out? What's going unsaid, just waiting for you to stand up and talk about it? These areas -- those things that you just have to get out -- are often some of your best posts.
Two small corollaries here:
2. While it's incredibly important to follow your instincts about what to write, this is not an excuse to just wait until inspiration strikes. If you really want your content to work for your business, you'll need a bigger picture. But luckily, that bigger picture can very easily accommodate flashes of inspiration when they do come up. More here.
4. What do you need to SAY?
Something that often gets overlooked in the rush to post, post, post, is that some things don't need to be said. Maybe they don't need to be said at all. Maybe they just don't need to be said right now. Either way, don't fall into the idea that you should be talking just for the sake of it. Ask yourself, what really needs to be said, right now? If the answer is nothing, then don't post. (I know, I know, every time you say that a content marketing guru bursts into flames.) But just as in conversation, quality beats quantity any day, so don't psych yourself out about it. Sometimes you have to be silent before you can speak.
And of course the corollary to this is if you tend to hold back when you know you have something to say, this is not your permission slip for silence. Speak up already!
Starting to see how this works? They're all the same question ... and yet all different too.
5. WHAT do they need to hear?
Put yourself in your people's brainspace -- what topics are they interested in? What do they need to know about? What information is going to be most useful to them? All good jumping off points for posts. If you're not sure, that's an issue. (Fix it here.)
6. What do THEY need to hear?
The things that your audience needs to hear is going to be different from what other people's audiences need to hear, and if you can feel out the differences between your audience and those other audiences, you can often find some good ideas, especially those debunking "common knowledge" that may work for some people, but definitely won't work for yours. This is also a great source of material for writing rallying cries -- and anything that invites people to participate in an identity with you is going to be some powerful stuff.
7. What do they NEED to hear?
If you could share just one thing with these people, what would it be? What are the overarching problems, pains, or fears they have? What are they ready to hear now? Write that.
8. What do they need to HEAR?
This is a combination of "what are they ready to listen to" and "how can you best deliver that". Remember, your people might not be able to understand concepts in the same way that you do, because you're the expert who spends all your time thinking about these things and they're not. So you've got to think about how you can present your concepts that they are ready to hear in a way that they have the prior knowledge to understand. This is not to say that you have to dumb things down -- by all means, use this as a jumping off point to educate them -- but remember that you do have to meet people where they're at.
All the sudden it's much less simple, more like "Excuse me while I stare into the depths of my soul", yes?
It may seem slow. And it may be slow the first couple of times you do it. But if you can start to get your brain in the habit of thinking this way -- not only asking these two questions, but breaking down big questions like this into their nuances -- you'll up your content game like you wouldn't believe.
So you've followed the advice of the so-called marketing gurus.
Created and crumpled a dozen "client avatars".
Blogged 'til you're blue in the face.
And you're still not seeing a ROI on your content.
Let's fix that.
Actionable tips, effective strategies, and absolutely irreverent advice for getting your words to actually work for your business, right here.
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